As a way to help you set your NBA-watching calendar, this space will get you ready for the best games that aren’t on ABC, ESPN, TNT or NBATV each week. We’ll provide a little insight about why you should check out each matchup and a few nuggets about the teams involved.
Mavericks at Celtics
The Celtics come back home on a seven-game win streak. They’re also returning to Boston without Gordon Hayward, who fractured his left hand against the San Antonio Spurs. Losing Hayward, who was playing some of the best basketball of his career, is a blow to the Celtics. The good news is Brad Stevens has plenty of wing depth. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are both playing well, alongside new addition Kemba Walker, which gives Boston plenty of scoring punch. There is a chance Enes Kanter could return for this game after injuring his knee on opening night.
For the Mavericks, Luka Doncic is waging a very early MVP campaign. He’s already recorded four triple-doubles and has just missed on two others. Overall, the 20-year old is averaging a 27.7/10.8/9.1 line through Dallas’ first nine games. In addition, Kristaps Porzingis seems to be getting his legs back under him. The Mavericks are off to one of their better starts of the last few years and are firmly in playoff contention.
Lakers at Suns
We all expected the Lakers to be pretty good. The Suns? No one expected them to have a winning record in mid-November. Los Angeles has gotten here on the strength of the league’s best defense. LeBron James and Anthony Davis are doing more than enough to carry the Lakers offense, while the rest of the team focuses on locking in on defense. Expect that formula to continue.
Phoenix is still chugging along despite DeAndre Ayton’s suspension limiting him to just one game played so far. Devin Booker is off to an incredible start, as he’s averaging 25.6 points per game on 53/50/92 shooting splits. Ricky Rubio is running the offense very efficiently, and Aron Baynes has been terrific filling in for Ayton. If the Suns can get this win, it would go a long way towards people thinking of them as a playoff contender versus just a fun early-season surprise.
76ers at Magic
Expect this game to be a rock fight. If you like defense, you’ll enjoy Orlando and Philadelphia matching up, as they are two of the NBA’s best on that end of the floor. The Magic are still figuring things out offensively, but are showing signs of breaking out of an early shooting slump. Markelle Fultz has taken over the starting point guard role and is showing why he was the first overall pick a few years ago. Keep an eye on Jonathan Isaac, as he’s become a terror on defense and is starting to break out on offense.
Ben Simmons might still be out for this game, as he’s battling through a sore right shoulder. If so, expect Philadelphia to mix and match at the point guard spot. It could be Raul Neto, who has filled in admirably for Simmons thus far, or rookie guard Matisse Thybulle, who has been terrific defensively to start his rookie season. No matter who starts, Orlando is one of the few teams that can match the 76ers size. That will make this an interesting matchup.
Clippers at Pelicans
This is a great chance to check out the Clippers if you’re on the East Coast, as this game tips at 8:00 PM EST. LA does play Houston the night before, so there is a chance that Kawhi Leonard could sit this one for load management reasons. But there is also a chance that Paul George will be back for LA. No matter who plays, the Clippers have the depth to make it an entertaining game. LA has one of the best benches in the league, and it will only get better when both Leonard and George are available.
The Pelicans are still without Zion Williamson, but they’ve been highly entertaining so far. Brandon Ingram is having a breakout season and has been almost unstoppable on the offensive end. Alvin Gentry is mixing and matching around Ingram and Jrue Holiday, as New Orleans works around injuries and inconsistency for the other players on the roster. Most nights one or two of the young players step forward to support Ingram and Holiday and keep the Pels competitive.
Kings at Lakers
Sacramento had a terrible start to the year, but has won three of their last four games entering the week. Marvin Bagley is still out, but De’Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield have shaken off early-season slumps to re-establish themselves as one of the NBA’s best young backcourts. Harrison Barnes has also turned his perennially underrated season, as he’s averaging 15.6 points per game on just under 50% shooting. Beating the rival Lakers could spark a turnaround that gets Sacramento back into playoff contention.
Rockets at Timberwolves
Houston finally started to play a little defense and they’ve won three straight entering the week as a result. Clint Capela is starting to complement James Harden and Russell Westbrook, as he’s defending and rebounding well. If Eric Gordon can get going, the Rockets will really take off. Both Harden and Westbrook are playing at a really high level, and none of the concerns of how they would fit together have materialized so far.
Karl-Anthony Towns has been dominant for Minnesota, but he needs help from someone else. Often this year, he’s getting that help from Andrew Wiggins. Wiggins has been a consistent scorer at 24.6 points per game. If Wiggins can maintain that consistency, and the Wolves can find a third option, it would go a long way towards keeping them in the playoff race in the Western Conference.
Nuggets at Grizzlies
After an up-and-down start, Denver is starting to play much better and looks like the contender everyone thought they would be in the West. Nikola Jokic still looks out of shape, but he’s regained his effectiveness. Jamal Murray and Will Barton are both off to good starts as well. When the Nuggets offense really hits its stride, watch out. Right now Denver is winning behind a defense that looks even better than last season, when they finished a surprising 10th in the NBA in Defensive Rating.
The Grizzlies are a fun watch when Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. are able to play. When they aren’t, Memphis games can be a slog. The good news is that both young building blocks are healthy and should be available against Denver. Keep an eye on Dillon Brooks, who is developing into a nice scoring option to complement Morant and Jackson.